Chapter 7 - View from a Long Line

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Something woke me. I could hear panicked screams coming from somewhere – what the heck! I ran up on deck, but Owen wasn't anywhere on the boat that I could see. My heart pounded. Where's Owen? What's happened now?

The wind in the rigging and the sound of the Sheffield making way through the water made it really hard to figure out where the screams were coming from. I looked forward to the bowsprit and then up in the rigging – no Owen. I looked at the compass and wheel. We were more or less on course and I could see why. Owen had tied the wheel in position with a line from the wheel to the starboard railing. Eventually, I looked behind the boat – into the wake – and I couldn't believe what I saw. There he was, right at the end of our bath line, hanging on for dear life. Owen had fallen overboard.

I ran to the stern of the boat and started pulling in the line, yelling at him to hold on, no matter what. The line was really hard to pull. The boat was travelling faster now and the force of pulling Owen through the water almost overwhelmed me. I'm strong for my age though, and I put everything into it. Hand over hand, once, then twice, then three times and Owen slowly got closer until he was right up to the back of the boat. I may have been strong enough to the pull Owen to the boat, but how was I to get him back onto the boat? Owen had to be getting tired though, so whatever way I was going to get him back on board, it would have to be soon. I didn't know what I would do if he let go. It would take me ten minutes or more to bring the boat around and by then he would be really far away – maybe too far away to find again.

"Owen, don't let go!" I yelled. And then I got an idea. Quick as I could I wrapped the line around the stern cleat that we use to the tie the Sheffield to the dock. Owen dropped back a bit, but still held on. I then scampered over to where the dinghy was tied to the boat. The dinghy was skipping over the water behind the boat. Without untying it, I grabbed the dinghy line, pulled it over the BBQ, around the backstays and then I tied it to the same cleat that Owen was tied to.

With the dinghy now on the right side of the boat, I slowly pulled it in, wrapping the dinghy line around the cleat as I went. It took everything I had, but within a few seconds the dinghy was skipping along in the wake, right beside Owen – now for the tricky part.

"Owen, I want you to let go of the line with one hand and use it to grab the dinghy handhold. When you've got a good hold on the dinghy, and I say 'now,' I want you to let go of the line and pull yourself into the dinghy. Can you do it?"

Owen nodded. I could just reach the collar of Owen's shirt when I was lying down on the boomkin deck and hanging my arm over the side. I hoped that I might be able to help a bit as well.

"OK, I've got a hold of your shirt," I said, "Now! Let go and grab the dinghy!"

I pulled as hard as I could and Owen managed to throw a leg up on the dinghy pontoon. In less than a second it was over – Owen flopped into the dinghy like a landed fish and lay there gasping. I reached down, helped him onto his feet and then hauled him back up onto the Sheffield. He collapsed on the deck, exhausted from the effort of holding on and being reeled in.

I waited while he caught his breath. He was coughing and sputtering and glaring at me. When he did speak, I wished he hadn't, because he just lost it. "I nearly died and it's your family's fault. What kind of trouble is your father in, anyway? Why are we out here? We should be home playing soccer – not out here in the middle of the stupid Caribbean Sea!"

I let him get it all out. I knew him really well and I knew that once he'd had a fit and screamed for a while, he would calm down and get back to business. But what the heck had he been doing in the water? I was afraid to ask. Finally, he calmed down and I risked the question, "Owen, how did you fall in the water?"

It turned out that Owen had seen one of the fishing lines go taut so he checked the line and realized that it had picked up some weeds. When he reached over to shake the weeds off the line, the boat hit a big wave which caused him to lose his balance and he'd toppled into the water. Luckily, our bath lines were still trailing behind the boat and he was able to grab one of them.

"Owen, that was really too close. Thank goodness you have a loud voice! I wouldn't have even known what happened to you." Tears sprang to my eyes as I considered how close I'd come to losing my best friend.

Owen looked at me, the anger slowly fading on his face. "You know, when only one of us is on watch, we should be tied to the boat," he said, "and we should both be wearing lifejackets."

I don't like all that safety stuff and I usually make a fuss when Mum makes me wear a lifejacket, but even I could see that without these things, we were in real danger. I had almost lost Owen. If I hadn't woken up when I did, he would be gone. I would never have found him, even if he'd managed to swim long enough for me to get back to him. "I agree," I said, "I'll go find a couple lifejackets and I think we have some life harnesses onboard somewhere."

I went below and looked in the closet where I knew Dad stored the safety gear. There were a few lifejackets and a number of harnesses. Some of them were climbing harnesses that Dad and the crew used when working in the rigging and others that were simpler and looked like they would fit on little boys. They also had lanyards with snap hooks on the end.

I grabbed the lifejackets and harnesses and went back on deck. "Let's figure out how to wear these things – then I'll take over the watch. You must be really tired." They were easy to put on. They went on your back with two metal rings in front that you snapped the lanyard to. We then put our lifejackets over our harnesses and snapped the end of the lanyard to the binnacle – the thing that holds the steering wheel.

"Owen, let's always wear these things when we're on watch, OK?"

"Brian, there is no way that I am ever not wearing a harness and a lifejacket again!" With that, Owen unsnapped his line and went below for some rest. I could hear him snoring in less than a minute

I remembered Dad saying that "boats bite". He meant that anytime you're on a boat you usually end up with some kind of minor injury. In our family, it seemed that we were always getting scrapes and bruises and we usually couldn't even figure out where they came from. You would try to think how you did it, but only once in awhile would it come back to you. Yeah, that's when I tripped over the cannon on the bowsprit or maybe that was when I walked into the stay when I was taking a customer a Sprite. I was feeling pretty beat up at the moment and I was pretty sure Owen was too. I was also thinking that we were learning the hard way, but we were learning. I was starting to feel proud of our accomplishments. We might turn out to be real sailors, after all.

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